Sanders, Freeney Back To Bolster Defense

The big news from Tuesday's Colts practice at Lucas Oil Stadium was the appearance of Peyton Manning, who answered questions about his knee. But perhaps overlooked was the return of two of the Colts other big stars -- Bob Sanders and Dwight Freeney, who both practiced for the first time since training camp opened.

Tony Dungy reported that both players were cleared to practice and that both "did really well" in their first full workout.

It's been a long road back for Freeney, who hasn't played since suffering a Lis Franc (foot) injury to his foot against San Diego last November. He said Tuesday that just being out on the field again was a big step.

Freeney is ready to get back to terrorizing QBs like Carson Palmer
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

"It felt good," he said. "I felt almost like a rookie again. For me, it's been so long — this is actually the longest I've been without going on the field with pads since I don't know when, maybe high school. November to now, it's mid-August. It felt good. I was excited being back with the guys."

Not only was Freeney able to suit up and take part in drill and scrimmages, he was back to his old speed-rushing self.

"Dwight had about four rushes at the end of practice in the two-minute drill that looked like very similar to what I used to see back in the day, as they say," Dungy said.

"It's funny," Freeney said. "The move that I got hurt on was a spin move and the first move I did (at practice) was a spin move, just to get it out the way, and it felt good."

Whether Freeney will play this Sunday against Buffalo — it's likely he'll play very little, if he does go — he anticipates being ready for the opener against Chicago, which is the timetable the team has set for both Freeney and Sanders all summer.

"I should be fine [for the opener]," he said. "I think I'm fine now, but I should definitely be fine in three weeks when it's time to line up on Sunday."

Freeney added that the road to recovery was challenging at times.

"When it happened, I was shocked," he said. "I couldn't believe that I wasn't going to be out there, not being with the team, not going to practice the next day. Through the course of rehab, it's very important that you stay positive and stay focused on the end goal of getting back out there. You have those days where you're like ‘Man, this is real bad,' in the beginning. You can't move your foot, just looking at it, you can't recognize it, but it started getting better. Week by week by week by week it's gotten better."

Now, the three-time All-Pro is ready to prove to the league he can return to the dominant form that produced a league-leading 16 sacks in 2004.

"I hope there is a little bit of that," he said. "I hope they say ‘Freeney, you've got to prove to us that you're back.' Hopefully they don't chip me as much or bring the doubles and get some singles and get some nice numbers in the beginning. We will see what happens. Whatever they do, I'll be ready for it. Hopefully they think I'm not ready. That'd be good."

Sanders hammers Warrick Dunn during a 2007 game
Chris Graythen/Getty

Sanders stayed healthy last season, in part by limiting his practice time, and was rewarded as the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year. Like Freeney, he was happy to get back to work Tuesday.

"Once we get everybody back, we feel like we've got a great team here," Sanders said. "It's always exciting when guys get injured and come back and be able to go back and be themselves and help this team try to continue to grow and win. Today was an exciting time, just to see everybody out there enjoying the moment together."

The strong safety has been injury-prone throughout his four-year career, but said he'd rather face the injury consequences than change his all-out, aggressive style of play.

"It's tough," he said. "You don't want to get injured. You don't want to have to rehab year in and year out, but to me it's a part of what I've been doing. My rehab is what I'll continue to have to do throughout my career, to keep rehabbing and making sure I'm staying on that, making sure I'm continuing to get stronger. It does help me stay mentally focused in because physically I have to get my body right, but being mentally sharp is most important to me in this game. We all can do it physically, but the more mentally sharp you are and assignment-oriented, you'll make plays."

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